This chapter begins to explore the phenomenon of unusual routines in six cases of organizational information and communication technologies (ICT – including computer-mediated communication systems). Unusual routines associated with ICTs are rarely acknowledged, diagnosed, or addressed by systems personnel or management, and only minimally by information systems researchers. Further, most systems analysis approaches emphasize the development of systems according to planned uses and expectations, and do not well anticipate dysfunctional uses, negative outcomes, and components resistant to diagnosis and correction. Markus (1984) and Bostrom and Heinen (1977a) noted that a frequent assumption of system designers is that problems with systems are due to user inadequacies ranging from lack of training to resistance to incompetence, rather than inadequacies of the system (similar to the “operator error” explanation of complex system failures, in Chapter 8). (For exceptions clearly emphasizing the social aspects of systems analysis and implementation, see Hirschheim, 1985; Kendall and Kendall, 1999; and Markus, 1984.) Users and clients may know they are experiencing difficulties with the system, but rarely do they identify these as URs.
The interactions, procedures, and processes are designed into the regular operation of the system or organization, and organizational structures or policies rarely allow the identification or mitigation of associated URs. The problematic processes are due, in the broadest sense, to faulty system design, impermeable organizational boundaries, and limited understanding of the complex, ambiguous, and changing social environments in which people use such systems.